And people for God’s own possesion
Scripture: Exodus 19-20
And God said to Moses…’if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’…And all the people answered together: ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do’.. Ex. 19:4-6, 8
Relationships are complicated. So complicated in fact that they require insight, discernment and interpretation. Something very small can cause misunderstanding, separation or broken relationship. The relationship between God and the Israelites was no different. The covenant that God established between himself and them, laid out the ‘rules’, summarized in the Ten Commandments. These ‘rules’ were intended to teach them how to relate to God and to each other. The fact that God was unchangeable, all powerful, and all knowing, while they were changeable, weak, and without understanding, made it that much more challenging.
God ‘struggled’ to get them to trust him, and they struggled with understanding God’s ways, comprehending his big picture perspective and accepting his love commitment to them. Israel failed frequently, but then it was perhaps an impossible task.
(1768 parchment, Jekuthiel Sofer emulated decalogue)
What follows may be a weak analogy, or perhaps one that is too personal to be helpful, but as I parent children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I see the covenant relationship between God and the Israelites in a new way.
Caleb and Emma see the world differently than I do. Whether that’s because verbal communication remains beyond their grasp, or because their five senses don’t relay the world back to them in a reliable fashion I’m not certain. I am certain that they struggle to adjust to how the world works and that their behaviour is often interpreted as reluctance, or resistance, or worse.
When I consider the amount of time it takes my children to learn a skill I admire the strength and determination they possess. My own strength and determination is less durable at times and I’ve come up with my own coping mechanism as I journey through life with them.
I tell myself that they must practice any particular skill at least a million times. I say a million times because I can’t count to a million. Well I can, but I won’t and I’m less prone to become frustrated if I’m not focusing on actually how many times we’ve done something. Amidst the million trials are: many refusals, out right failures, faltering attempts, almosts, glimmers of hope, regressions, sporadic successes, and finally, when i think it’s hopeless the confidence of a learned skill emerges.
I see somewhat the same pattern in the relationship with God and the People of Israel. Perhaps in the same way that my children need the extra time to figure out the myriad of rules that make up their everyday world, the people of Israel needed years and years and years to figure out how to live even marginally close to the way that God had invited them to live. The grace of God is that He gave them so much time.
Eventually the Israelites did change and grow, but just as Caleb and Emma cannot conquer autism on their own, the Israelites could not change enough to keep the Law of God. And so, in the fullness of time, which we mark daily in the Advent season came Jesus to make it possible to finally be, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for for his own possession…’ 1 Peter 2:9
Thankfully, this same Jesus is the one who grants patience for a million trials and grace to handle the day by day impossible tasks.
Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen